Les Green was a “rare folk singer”

I figured Ed Link and Les Green met at one of Link’s business locations by the airport or maybe elsewhere, or through Link’s involvement with his charitable foundation

Les Green is rare folk singerI will always remember a visit c. 1985 I made to Charlotte, NC, where my late dad Les Green lived since 1974. I was SHOCKED to discover that he talked about me to his colleagues about how smart I was, how I would look up things I didn’t know. He talked about me? He LIKED my intellectual curiosity? I had always thought that it had annoyed him.

It was an intellectual curiosity that led me to this photo. You may recall this post from February, featuring a photo of my late mother, my sister Marcia and me standing in the driveway of 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY. It was almost certainly taken by my dad.

I posted the photo on one Facebook group, trying to identify the building in the background. It is a red brick factory that never had particularly identifiable signage that my sisters and I could recall. I since learned that early in the 20th century, it was the home of Star Electric. In 1918 it became Barnes-Smith Co. cigar manufacturers. After being the Bonnie Silk Mill in the 1920s and ’30s, it was one of the first plants of Link Aviation.

WHAT? My father often spoke of his admiration of and affection for Ed Link, who was “a pioneer in aviation, underwater archaeology, and submersibles. He is best known for inventing the flight simulator, commercialized in 1929.”

I figured they met at one of his locations by the airport or maybe elsewhere, or through Link’s involvement with the charitable foundation he and his wife started. Could they have met on the street where I lived?

In the comments, a woman named Kathi, who had attended the same church I did, posted “this awesome pic that was in the Binghamton Press of your dad, me, and my cousin Butch.” My father cropped this specific photo and used it in fliers promoting his singing gigs in the area for a number of years.

My curiosity about the factory across the street led to the source of the graphic for the Les Green one-man PR machine. Dad would have been 93 tomorrow.

Arranging flowers: a Les Green specialty

Les Green used to arrange flowers at a store on the South Side of Binghamton called Costa’s

Les Green.Carol PowellHere is my father with my bride Carol in March 2000. This is Les Green in his element, arranging flowers and the accouterments thereof.

He used to arrange flowers at a store on the South Side of Binghamton called Costa’s. He worked out of there when his regular job was slow, but even when he was working full time. He was VERY good working with his hands, a gift he did NOT pass down to his son.

For several years, he arranged flowers and did decorations for something called the Debutante’s Ball in my hometown, which was geared towards the black community. Often, my sister Leslie and I would accompany him. Now Leslie had an eye for this work, but I was there primarily to schlep stuff. I was a pretty good schlepper.

He also worked on at least two weddings of my mother’s cousins in New York City in the 1960s. I gather he was doing similar things when he moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974.

He decorated the assembly hall at my then-church in Albany in May 1999 for Carol’s and my wedding, showing great energy and resolve. It wasn’t until the end of the reception that she shared with my shocked new mother-in-law that he had prostate cancer. Or more correctly that he was “living with” the disease.

When I referred to Carol as my bride in the above picture, I wasn’t kidding. We’d been married less than 10 months at the time. This was dad arranging his church in Charlotte for a surprise celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Carol and Leslie and Marcia helped; I’m sure I moved some items.

But what was evident to Leslie and Carol and me for sure was that he was moving just a little bit slower than he did 10 months earlier. He needed a couple more breaks. About five months after this picture was taken, my father would be gone.

Two types of photos look like Les Green in my mind’s eye: him with his guitar, and him arranging flowers. Even 19 years after he passed, he’s still a very real presence.

Les and Trudy: Redhead in San Francisco

Many of the wives were talking about the issues of the day: war, politics, and, inevitably, race.

Les and TrudyI don’t think I told this story before. If I have, in the words of an old friend of mine from England would often say, “Toughy buns.”

In the late 1960s, after about six mind-numbing years at IBM and a brief but productive stint at Opportunities for Broome, my father worked for Associated Building Contractors. I’m not quite sure what he did at ABC, but I imagine it had something to do with safety compliance, since that’s what he did at J.A. Jones after he moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974.

One of the perks of the job was the ability to travel. In 1969, give or take a year, mom and dad went out to San Francisco on a business trip of his. While the men did whatever, the “wives” would have lunch.

At one of these events, many of the wives were talking about the issues of the day: war, politics, and, inevitably, race. Some conversation took place on the latter topic, during which Mom listened thoughtfully, but said nothing. One of the wives, wanting to draw Mom into the discussion, said, “Trudy, what do think?”

Mom said, “Well, being a black woman…” Apparently, many jaws hit the table, perhaps one or two literally.

It is true that the red wig that she wore in the 1960s, which was even brighter in color than this one from the 1980s, made her skin appear even lighter. But she never identified as anything but a black woman.

My father tended to be the more visible, the more outgoing in the couple. So when there was a narrative in which SHE was the chief protagonist, mom enjoyed it immensely. She told this story more than once; there were a few anecdotes that she liked to repeat. I never asked him, but I have to think that dad was pleased that mom was out there, gathering information.

Les and Trudy Green were married on March 12, 1950, and were wed for more than 50 years, until my father died in August 2000.

Les Green, Pop, ancestry, DNA, anger

It would be Les Green’s 92nd birthday tomorrow

Les Green.Savannah GA.1998
Les Green.Savannah GA.1998
On the same day this month, I read two oddly similar stores. One was in the Boston Globe: “DNA test tells man the bittersweet truth: His father was a Catholic priest.” The other was a piece by Times Union blogger Robert S. Hoffman When your dad is not your father.

And it got me to thinking, again, about the parents of my father, Les Green. Something in the Globe story stuck out: “For decades, James C. Graham was tormented by a simple, but profound question: Why did his father seem to dislike him so much? The South Carolina man confirmed the bittersweet truth: The man who raised him wasn’t his father at all.”

My father seemed to have at least a mild antipathy his stepfather, for the man we all called Pop, McKinley Green. Clearly, he knew Pop wasn’t his biological father, and that might have been the source of his distress. Or maybe it was Pop’s family, who, even after Mac died in 1980, said disparaging things – “bastard son” – about my father within his earshot.

Regardless, I’m still hoping that DNA will someday help me to identify the identity of my biological grandfather. There are at least five people in Ancestry that are noted as my second or third cousins. One is cousin Lisa, a second cousin on my maternal grandmother’s side. And just recently, there’s a guy named Charles with a very distinct surname, clearly a third cousin on my paternal grandmother’s side.

But what of the other three, two of which are closely related to each other as well as to me? One has a genealogy with 125 names and 10 distinct surnames, none of which are familiar. He’s very African, with lineage almost exclusively from Ivory Coast/Ghana, Nigeria, and Mali.

I should address a question from my friend Carol about Ancestry.com: “I’m concerned about the data storage and privacy issues. Have you researched that at all?” Well, yes, they do, though participants can contribute either pseudonymously or with real names. It is the open sharing of information that the best information will arise.

This is a picture of my dad at the ASBDC conference in Savannah, possibly the best time I ever had with him. It would be Les Green’s 92nd birthday tomorrow. I’ll figure this genealogy stuff out eventually.

Father and Son – Cat Stevens

Revisiting dad’s death with sister Leslie

What also helped me was the fact that I wrote Dad a letter when I was about 23.

Leslie Green, Roger Green, Les Green
When I was out in San Diego visiting my sister Leslie in July, we sat around and talked. A lot. Other than go to doctors’ appointments and dealing with visits and phone calls from nurses and hospital folks, there wasn’t that much else to do.

One of the topics was our dad’s death, back on August 10, 2000. The facts, of course, haven’t changed, but my understanding has.

I was the first child, the first grandchild on both sides of the family, after my mother had miscarried almost two years earlier. At some point, I always felt that I was a disappointment to him. Les Green was VERY artistic, in many ways, and I just wasn’t, and aren’t to this day.

Whereas Leslie was largely everything he was. Dad arranged flowers for debutante balls, family and church weddings, and the like. I had no eye for this but Leslie did. I was useful in that I could schlep stuff, but get Leslie, not me, to tie ribbons that looked aesthetically pleasing.

Dad tried, and failed, to teach me how to play guitar. Leslie got her own guitar on her 12th birthday and was competent on it in a month. When we’d sing together, the only instrument I ever played was the comb, which I WAS sorta OK at.

When adults came to visit my parents at our home, I would drag myself away from reading the World Almanac an encyclopedia, or the backs of my baseball cards to say hello, stay as briefly as possible and then retreat to my room. Leslie, on the other hand, would engage them in conversation, even gregariously entertain them. This made no sense to me, as I figured these folks didn’t come to see her, or me, or our baby sister Marcia.

So Leslie was dad’s favorite. I say this without malice or jealousy. I knew it, she knew it, Marcia knew it. Our mother knew it, and tried, in little, awkward ways, to try to balance the scales.

All of this is not in dispute. What I didn’t really recognize until the trip to San Diego was the weight of being Dad’s favorite, of being the little hostess, to be more his artistic collaborator, to be NAMED AFTER HIM.

What also helped me was the fact that I wrote him a letter when I was about 23, complaining about the fact that I was spanked unnecessarily as a child. I may have used the word “sadistic,” but I’m not sure. We didn’t talk, except through my mother, for six months.

I couldn’t stand it, and I wrote ANOTHER letter, expressing the joy I had singing with him; playing cards with him; getting lost with him in Speculator, NY on the way to Lake George; going to Triplets baseball games; him painting the solar system on my bedroom ceiling; et al. He started talking to me again.

I had the BEST time with him, one-on-one, when I was at an ASBDC conference in Savannah, GA in 1998, and he drove down from Charlotte to hang out with me, and, naturally, flirt with my female friends.

I almost certainly had an easier time accepting our dad’s death in 2000 than Leslie did. This is why she wanted the showy funeral, though nothing my father had said suggested he desired such trappings. This is why Marcia, my mother and I waited her out for hours at the funeral home until she agreed to let dad be cremated.

I really wasn’t picking up on the BURDEN of being Les Green’s favorite child until this summer.